December 11, 2015
Capitol Update

In this issue:


ELEMENTARY AND SECONDARY EDUCATION ACT REAUTHORIZATION SIGNED INTO LAW BY PRESIDENT OBAMA

On December 10th, President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) into law, which reauthorizes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). ESSA passed the Senate with a large bipartisan margin of 85 to 12 the previous day, while the House passed the bill by a bipartisan margin of 359 to 94 a week earlier.

ESSA was sponsored by the Chairs and Ranking Members of the House and Senate Education Committees, and will replace the 14-year old No Child Left Behind Act (the previous ESEA reauthorization). According to an Education Week description, the legislation would “roll back the federal footprint in K-12 education for the first time in nearly a quarter century, putting states in the driver’s seat when it comes to accountability, teacher evaluation, school turnarounds, and more.”

While the bill does not reauthorize the Math and Science Partnership (MSP) program, which ASME has strongly supported in the past, the STEM Education Coalition, of which ASME is the engineering co-chair, thinks the bill could give states and districts more opportunities to use federal funds for science, technology, engineering, and math education, which could strengthen STEM education as a priority in K-12 education.

Some other STEM education highlights from the bill include:

  • Maintaining the current requirement around science and math testing.
  • Establishing dedicated federal funding for either a state-led STEM master-teacher corps or STEM professional development. 
  • Helping states integrate engineering concepts into state science assessments. 
  • Allowing both Title II and IV funding to be used for improving STEM instruction.
  • Supporting alternative certification for STEM teachers, as well as differential pay since STEM is a high-needs subject.

For additional information about the bill and its STEM components, please visit: http://ppec.asme.org/key-issues/stem-workforce-development/


COMMITTEE INTRODUCES BIPARTISAN NUCLEAR R&D BILL

House Science Energy Subcommittee Chairman Randy Weber (R-TX), along with Full Committee Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX), recently introduced H.R. 4084, the Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act. 

This bill directs the Department of Energy (DOE) to prioritize research and development (R&D) infrastructure that will enable the private sector to invest in advanced reactor technologies. The bill provides a clear path forward to attract private investment for prototype development at DOE labs.

In a prepared statement, Rep. Johnson said, “I am very pleased to co-sponsor the Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act, which will help accelerate the development of advanced nuclear energy technologies that are safer, less expensive, more efficient, and produce less waste than the current generation of nuclear reactors. Nuclear power currently plays a pivotal role in providing our country with reliable energy. As a nation, it produces almost 20 percent of our total electric power, all with essentially, no greenhouse gas emissions. This bill will ensure that innovators at our national labs, universities, and in the private sector have the tools they need for nuclear energy to play a key role in enabling our nation’s clean energy future.”

A hearing was held on the bill on December 3rd. Information on that hearing is available at: https://science.house.gov/legislation/hearings/energy-subcommittee-hearing-hr-4084-nuclear-energy-innovation-capabilities-act

A summary of the witnesses’ statements may be read at: https://science.house.gov/news/press-releases/witnesses-testify-importance-bipartisan-nuclear-rd-bill


NEW STUDY ANALYZES METHANE EMISSION DISCREPANCIES

According to a new study that compares atmospheric sampling to source-based samples from industry, emissions of methane from the oil and gas industry exceed current federal government assumptions. The new study may impact submissions to EPA’s current solicitation for input on hazardous air pollution emissions from the oil and gas sector.

The oil and natural gas industry includes a wide range of operations and equipment, from wells to natural gas gathering lines and processing facilities, to storage tanks, and transmission and distribution pipelines that may leak methane and other volatile organic compounds (VOC) regulated by the EPA.

Based on data from the Barnett Shale region of Texas, the study’s authors found that, “measured oil and gas methane emissions are 90 percent larger than estimates based on the US EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Inventory and correspond to 1.5% of natural gas production. This rate of methane loss increases the 20-year climate impacts of natural gas consumed in the region by roughly 50%.”

Past studies reporting divergent estimates of methane emissions from the natural gas supply chain have generated conflicting claims about the full greenhouse gas footprint of natural gas. The new study could help EPA and industry identify better practices to reduce high-volume releases of methane.

For more information, please visit: http://ppec.asme.org/key-issues/energy/

EPA’s overview of regulatory actions addressing oil and gas industry emissions is available at: http://www3.epa.gov/airquality/oilandgas/actions.html


U.S. HOUSE PASSES ENERGY BILL

On December 3rd, the House of Representatives passed a comprehensive energy bill, H.R. 8, the North American Energy Security and Infrastructure Act, by a vote of 249 to 174. The Republican-led legislation seeks to improve and modernize U.S. energy infrastructure, expand energy exports, and leverage the current glut in U.S. oil production.

While Republicans managed to pass a bipartisan energy bill out of subcommittee, negotiations fell apart at the full House Energy & Commerce Committee level and resulted in passage of largely partisan energy package that left out many Democratic energy priorities. As such, the legislation faces a veto threat from the White House.

A fact sheet describing the bill in detail is available at:  http://ppec.asme.org/key-issues/energy/

The White House’s Statement of Administration Policy on H.R. 8 is available at: https://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/omb/legislative/sap/114/saphr8r_20151130.pdf


HOUSE COMMITTEE EXAMINES DOE NUCLEAR WASTE FUND

The Environment and the Economy Subcommittee held a hearing last week examining the Department of Energy’s Nuclear Waste Fund, including budgetary treatment of the over $34 billion currently residing in the fund.

Following President Obama’s decision that Yucca Mountain was an unworkable site for long-term nuclear waste storage, the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) sued Department of Energy (DOE) to halt the collection of the pay-for-service fee charged to nuclear energy consumers. In 2013, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia sided with NARUC and determined there was no longer a rational basis to collect the fee, and in 2014, DOE suspended collection of the fee.

Committee Chairman Fred Upton summarized Republican’s objectives for the hearing in his opening statement, “For over thirty years, ratepayers, including my constituents back in Michigan who rely on clean nuclear power, paid a tax on electricity generated from commercial nuclear power plants to study, license, and construct a permanent repository for spent fuel. When the current administration decided the Yucca Mountain project was “unworkable,” and illegally moved to withdraw its license application, it attempted to abandon a thirty-year, $15 billion investment. In 2013, the D.C. Court of Appeals rightly suspended the federal government’s collection of the nuclear waste fee, reasoning that the absence of a repository program meant DOE could not collect the tax. It is time for consumers to get what they paid for: a decision whether Yucca Mountain can be licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. If that decision is yes, the Department of Energy should proceed with construction of the facility.”

An archived webcast of the hearing and full witness testimony is available at: http://energycommerce.house.gov/hearing/nuclear-waste-fund-budgetary-funding-and-scoring-issues

Visit the ASME Public Policy Education Center at http://ppec.asme.org/ for daily news and policy developments, including the following:

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